This afternoon my mom and I visited the ‘Ocean Rider’ seahorse farm. It’s a family operation which is developing domesticated varieties of seahorses which are suited for captivity — previously most pet seahorses were wild-caught, extremely finicky, and died promptly after sale. Their mission is largely commercial (they’re a for-profit company and make their money selling seahorses to fishkeepers) but they’re also involved in some species preservation work.
The horses in the hatchery (no photos allowed) certainly seemed domesticated. As soon as we tourists walked up to one of the tubs, the four adults rushed up to us and poked their noses out of the water. Part of the tour involves having the visitors feed shrimp (opea ula, below) to the breeders, so they have every reason to be pro-tourist. The new babies were extremely cute and also glad to see us — but, alas, unphotographable.
There has been an experimental energy plant here on the coast for 30 or so years which uses the temperature gradient between deep and surface ocean water to generate electricity. A side effect of all that pumping is big supply of uphill seawater, so a constellation of aquaculture facilities have sprouted up around the energy plant. (I’m still hoping to visit the abalone farm before the week is out.) There’s also an airport a couple of miles away for easy shipping.
Lots of free seawater means that the water-quality technology at the seahorse farm is appallingly simple — clean water comes in from a big pipe, dirty water rolls out into the ocean. No mucking with filtration or salt mixing or any of that nonsense required in the midwest. This is pretty much the same principle as the mess of tubes and overflow pipes in my basement tanks, only much much bigger (and, of course, with seawater rather than chlorinated Mississippi river water.) A system like this any distance from the ocean would cost zillions of dollars to operate.
If you check out the farm’s website (new-age soundtrack warning!) you can see that they’re selling blobs of seaweed for $20 a pop. This must be a big winner for them since the plants grow in big open-air tubs without requiring any apparent attention at all. The tourguide invited us to pull out a handful and take a bite, which Mom immediately did. (“Salty!”) At this point in the tour, my jealousy mounts: unlimited clean sea water, 360 days of sunshine per year… it’s almost unsportsmanlike.
The gimmicky (and most time-consuming) part of the tour involved poking freshly-scrubbed hands into one of the tanks so that a seahorse could be gingerly placed on our fingers. It’s worth noting that this was not part of a hard sell — due to environmental laws they actually don’t sell any of their animals within the hawaiian islands, so there’s no danger of impulse purchases.
Hawaii is home to ‘Halocaridina rubra,’ a shrimp similar to the ones I keep in the aforementioned midwestern basement. They live in brackish pools that are connected to the ocean via lava tubes. In order to provide extra-deluxe food for their breeders, the owners of the farm dug a hole in the lava on their grounds — the hole promptly filled up with seawater and, subsequently, Halocaridina. Another clear advantage of geography.
Much of the technology they’re developing here has to do with food for the young seahorses. There a lot of big tubs of brine shrimp at all different sizes, and dozens of cone-shaped plankton tanks for copepods and all manner of other tiny foods. This work was mentioned but not explained in detail, and I didn’t get much of a look at their plankton setups. I guess they expect the tourists to be more interested in things that are actually visible to the naked eye — go figure.